These 3 fears are slowing down digitalisation

Andre Simha
4 min readApr 21, 2022


In my last post, I explored the five major digitalisation themes in shipping, and with the help of your feedback and input, I will be exploring those themes in more detail in future posts.

But first, we need to take a look at something that affects the success of every single theme and initiative we’re working towards — the barriers to change.

We may have the ideas, we may have the technology, we may even have detailed plans to implement, but if we cannot overcome these obstacles, success will be slow.

In this post I explore what I see as the major barriers to change, and how we can overcome them, because the more aware we are of what’s stopping us, the better equipped we will be to succeed.

#1 — Fear of failure

“I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed” — Michael Jordan

Success is impossible without failure. Innovation involves experimentation, or as Thomas Edison put it “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

Google, widely regarded as one of the most successful tech companies ever, valued at an estimated $300B, is the very picture of successful innovation.

But behind their obvious success lies many failures.

Google+, Google Wave, Google Glass, Google Tango, Google Talk, Google Video, Google Nexus, and countless other initiatives have ‘failed’. But innovation is so deeply embedded in Google’s culture, that these failures aren’t seen as failures at all.

In 2010, Google CEO Eric Schmidt explained — “we celebrate our failures. This is a company where it is absolutely OK to try something that is very hard, have it not be successful, take the learning and apply it to something new.”

This kind of mindset is necessary for successful innovation.

Digitalising an industry like shipping is what you would classify a ‘very hard’ challenge. Complex, interdependent, and of a massive scale, implementing innovative change is an immense challenge.

We can’t expect every initiative to be perfect the first time round. But instead of shying away from it, we’re better to embrace ‘failure’, to encourage innovation, experimentation, and speed of implementation over ‘perfection’.

The better the industry can shift toward a test, learn, iterate and improve approach, the more success we’ll have.

#2 — Fear of the unknown

Humans are creatures of habit. We do what we do, because that’s how we do them.

Even when the existing way is inefficient or ineffective, there is a tendency to stick to the comfort of the known, rather than embrace the promise of a new way — because it is after all, just a promise.

This fear of the unknown is a major barrier to change.

Shipping, unlike the tech industry, has changed at a slower rate. Processes, systems, mindsets and behaviours have become entrenched over time, which makes them far more resistant to change. The more well-trodden a path, the more likely we are to follow it.

But we can’t let a fear of the unknown limit progress.

Rather than cling to how things are done today, we need to encourage a mindset that looks toward how we could improve them in the future. Not just at a leadership level, but at all levels of an organisation.

One way to overcome a fear of the unknown is to be part of shaping it. The clearer our vision of the future, the less unknown it starts to feel.

“The best way to predict the future is to invent it” — Peter Drucker

#3 — Fear of financial risk

Digitalisation can seem like a big investment that comes with a lot of uncertainties. Changing legacy systems, incorporating new technologies, training and switching processes, all of it comes with a risk. Should a company develop a tech in-house, or work with an external provider? How can you be certain it won’t soon be outdated?

These are legitimate fears, but all risk can be mitigated.

Digitalisation is an industry-wide effort, and by sharing the load we reduce risk. Developing new technology standards in silos is far riskier than working together. Competing systems can result in one of them becoming redundant, which is a risk that can be avoided by collaborating on an industry standard approach.

But it’s not just collaboration, we can further reduce the risk by starting off with small pilot projects, adopting a test, learn and iterate approach until we iron out any kinks.

Despite what it may seem, digitalisation projects don’t always need to be a large scale reinvention, sometimes they can be as simple as simplifying an existing process in a digital way (like the electronic bill of lading for example).

While fear of financial risk is understandable, there are many ways to reduce that risk, and accelerate innovation.


The better we understand what’s stopping us, the faster we can progress — and a greater sense of urgency would be of great benefit.

The pandemic has shown us that necessity accelerates adoption. When there was no other option, remote work quickly became the norm. So how do we create the same level of necessity and urgency for meaningful longer-term initiatives?

Digitalisation is not a nice-to-have in the future, but rather an essential for the success of our industry.

While there are innumerable more specific challenges, I have outlined what I believe are the major fears and obstacles we face when it comes to digitalisation.

But as usual, these are just my thoughts.

What other typical fears can you think of?

Let me know in the comments below.



Andre Simha

Father, bass player, shoeaholic. CDO at MSC and Chairman of the DCSA. I mostly write about the digitalisation of container shipping.